We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, March 12, 2023


 An Evening with Mannes Opera

Mannes Sounds Festival, helmed by Artistic Director Pavlina Dokovska, has been keeping New Yoirk City entertained since February with a number of exciting events. Last night we were delighted to attend the vocal entry "Bel Canto, an Evening with Mannes Opera"  held at the gorgeous Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, on the good counsel of one of our favorite singers. We are very happy for this good counsel, having spent the evening hearing some of our favorite Mannes singers and discovering some new ones.

Director William Gustafson staged each scene in a manner that made the action clear and augmented the staging with a brief but engaging description, for those in the audience unfamiliar with the operas. If the scene involved more than the person performing the aria, the other scene partners were onstage, giving the singer dramatic input. This added imeasureably to the engaging nature of the evening.

Music director Eun Kyung Lee accompanied on the piano and adhered perfectly to the varying styles of singing. There were also a couple of instrumental pieces that we enjoyed. Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp struck us as haunting and mysterious, stirring our imagination into a woodland scene with the harp creating a rippling stream and the flute bringing bird calls to mind. It was quite lovely. "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice was otherwordly with Ms. Lee's piano joined by a pair of flutes, performing from a balcony in the rear.

Although that device was most effective for that piece, the use of the balconies for operatic numbers was somewhat less so--perhaps dramatically appropriate but making the singer difficult to see. Our readers know how much we prefer "up close and personal"--strictly a matter of personal preference.

The performances were all excellent but let us recall a few in which the singer and the material seemed perfect for one another. Soprano Theodora Siegel showed fine involvement with the character in her performance of "O luce di quest'anima" from Donizetti's Linda diChamounix, utilizing lavish embellishment of the vocal line to convey Linda's delight.

Similarly, soprano Jihye Seo gave a moving portrayal of the doomed heroine of  Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. In the first part of the scene "O nubei che lieve" she reflects on her homeland in lyrical fashion; in the cabaletta "Nelle pace del mesto riposo" she let loose her rage at Queen Elizabeth with passionate fioritura. We loved the resonance of her voice, with overtones bouncing around the nave. In keeping with Mr. Gustafson's intentions, it would have been meaningful to have Maria's companion Anna nearby.

Whilst we are discussing Donizetti, baritone Julian Bailey made a persuasive Dottore Malatesta, trying to convince the titular Don Pasquale of the virtues of his "sister" in "Bella siccome un angelo".  Mr. Bailey's mid-range has a most compelling texture.

We may not consider Mozart and Bizet as "bel canto" composers. but then Lincoln Center always included some outliers in their Mostly Mozart Festival. So we were thrilled to hear mezzo-soprano Shengnan Yang perform the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen with luscious tone and seductive manner.

MIcaela's aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" was performed by soprano Sunwei Li in a most heartfelt manner with soaring tones that rose to the celing.

Mozart was given quite a bit of stage time and we enjoyed baritone Haojie Jiang's interpretation of Figaro's aria "Non più andrai" from Nozze di Figaro, sung with full tone and charming personality. Estelina Syla as Susanna harmonized beautifully with Lindsey Kanaga in "Sull'aria" but they were way up high in the balcony and contemporized the duet by means of cell phone usage which distracted by its anachronicity.

Way outside the "bel canto" designation but just as filled with vocal fireworks is Adele's "Laughing Song" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus and Haojin Mo not only nailed those fireworks but created a very funny and loveable character.

There were many more treasures on this long program but we are out of space.  However we don't want to end without mentioning an aria in (gasp) English which we actually enjoyed and the words of which were totally comprehensible.  Tenor Knox Van Horn gave a well phrased account of "New York Lights" from William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge. The finest compliment we could give is that we would actually consider going to a performance of said opera, should it be produced locally!

© meche kroop

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